Blackcurrant growers fear for future after all contracts are cut

David Medcalf

Published 17/09/2013 | 16:17

The 2013 Wexford blackcurrant harvest was plentiful but growers of the vitamin rich fruit fear that they may have little or no commercial future.

The 2013 Wexford blackcurrant harvest was plentiful but growers of the vitamin rich fruit fear that they may have little or no commercial future.

Multinational giant Glaxo Smith Kline, which made the famous Ribena squash drink until recently, cut contracts to its Model suppliers in favour of British farmers before selling off the brand to Japanese beverages giant Suntory.

'It is a difficult time to be perfectly honest,' admitted Des Jeffares of Drinagh, 'but hopefully this was not the last harvest. We are not digging up the bushes yet.'

The man from Ballykelly House is the man most dependent on the dark little round berries for a livelihood among the half dozen commercial farmers. Between them they have around 100 hectares devoted to production of blackcurrants, some with Ribena contracts dating back as far as the 1950s.

Des Jeffares, who was used in the past as the poster boy for Ribena advertising in Ireland expects that some of the six will drop out now that the guaranteed market is no longer available. However, he has pledged to continue production in Drinagh and he does not expect to be alone.

The crop just taken in ran late because spring was slow to show but it proved worth waiting for as quality and yields were both high. In the background was the understanding that contracts would not be extended after negotiations with Glaxo Smith Kline earlier in the year failed to earn a reprieve for the Wexford growers.

'That is the way big business operates,' mused Des Jeffares. He is now busy looking for alternative outlets for a fruit that is well suited by the climate in Wexford.

'We are looking to the home market,' he revealed, hopeful that Irish restaurants, hotels and cafes will take up some of the slack. 'It is not all doom and gloom.'

New Ross Standard

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